Slice it Up: How a Personal Pie Chart Changes As You Live Your Life

December 29, 2017 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

A pie chart is the perfect metaphor to visualize almost everything in your life. A round circle, you can divide it into any number of different-size pieces to display the relative size of various data. It might showcase your income and how you typically spend it—the biggest slice for housing, a smaller one for food and yet smaller ones for clothing, travel and entertainment.

Seeing all together in one visual can help you to grasp how if you spent less on your home-related costs you might be able to retire sooner or take a long wished for vacation. A pie chart can also visually display your food intake, important if you’ve been told to reduce your sugar and carbs. You can even draw a pie chart to help get a handle on why your happiness quotient isn’t higher. Perhaps, if you didn’t devote so much time to work, you could allot more hours to goof off with friends, exercise and see movies, all of which you enjoy but which have been only slivers in your pie.                     

Get our drift? A pie chart vacillates. And as your life and needs change, it’s up to you to revise the recipe, alter ingredients and the size of your slices to better suit your finances, waistline and mindset. Here is a snapshot of our personal pie chart changing stories.(See our personal pie charts below.)

After Barbara broke two bones in her hand and wrist due to a terrible fall on ice on her own driveway, she had to redo her weekly pie chart after a first surgery. She no longer could exercise, cook or drive and had little time to play, socialize and even help take care of her aging mother. She needed all her hours and energy for hand therapy at home, which consisted of multiple exercises with a panoply of “toys” to push movement, plus soaking her hand in alternate baths of cold and hot water, applying heat and ice, as well as two-hour visits to a certified specialist’s office five days a week. Taking a shower and bath took longer and required help; so did doing most errands and walking anywhere since she feared she might slip and fall again. And then her mom had a small stroke and required more of her time, which took away time from Barbara’s own recovery. 

Fast forward one year, a second surgery and a switch to another therapist, and her surgeon announced that her hand and wrist were fully healed—“the X-rays show they are all better!” he said with a smile. The next day her hand therapist shared that rehab would end the coming month since she had regained so much mobility and strength, not complete but close. She was told to keep up her weight and strength training on her own, continue with the chiropractor she had started to see to work on her shoulder due to collateral damage and some numbness in one finger and go back to more of her favorite activities—baking, Pilates and even painting. How did she feel? A bit unmoored. For months, her life had been reordered with her new pie chart focused on healing.    

Now what? she thought. It was similar to the sinking feeling she had when her husband walked out the door 17 years ago after 29 years of marriage. It left a hole in her heart and in how she spent her time. With the healing of her hand, she was experiencing the loss of all that had centered her on getting better. What would she do with all the daily hours spent trudging into New York City to her therapist? And what about all those hours she had spent on doing hand exercises and watching so much TV while she exercised? 

While a large slice of her pie chart activity was missing, she began to understand that there was a silver lining. She was almost healed. More important, she now had the gift of time to again start enjoying life more. A talk with a psychologist brought out the idea of revising her pie pieces to do more Pilates, consider a physical challenge such as a mini-marathon, swim and even return to tennis. 

Margaret has also made pie chart adjustments through the years, after her kids left home for college, when she went back to work full-time, when her parents aged and required more help, and as her kids moved away and she visited them in distant cities. But the biggest change was six years ago after her husband of then 36 years was diagnosed with cancer. She made certain changes in her schedule to fight by his side during his five-year illness. She continued to work as a diversion and tried to keep up exercise to remain healthy mentally and physically. It was incredibly tough. After he died, she literally froze in deciding what she would do as she faced the big “Now what?”

She had to craft a new plan again without the one person whom she had always counted on. With help from others who had suffered the loss of a spouse or partner through a support group she attended, she decided to return to work, which represented a familiar routine that would keep her busy. She also exercised to lessen stress, filled in gaps with freelance work to earn more money, socialized with friends who were willing to accept a single into their circle and started to entertain solo, which was empowering. 

Two years after her loss, she added in more activities—she began cleaning out her home of 37 years after she decided to sell it, moved into a new home, began volunteering and started dating an old high school boyfriend, which meant more time for him and less for her work on her writing or reading at night.

After 3 ½ years, they parted ways, which left a new gap. And she instinctively knew that she had to recraft her pie chart again because she had so much more time to fill. She did so by being with girlfriends, tackling more freelance writing assignments, and doing additional volunteer work with kids. All seemed to be a nicely oiled machine, humming along smoothly, until her eldest son, the only one of her three kids who had moved back to his hometown, announced he was relocating for a new job in New York City. At that point, Margaret had lived most of her life in St. Louis around family. For the first time, she will be without any immediate relatives close by. Should she move to be closer to him and other family members? She knew it would take time to decide and multiple trips to his new location to see if it might work for her long term. 

We all experience the need to make adjustments in our schedules and life choices due to sudden jolts like a fall or death, or slow moving changes due to someone’s or our own illness, change in work, divorce, a death, loss of a job or financial windfall. Pick up a newspaper or magazine and the changes are everywhere: a natural disaster destroys or damages a home, someone decides to take on a second job to make ends meet, someone else relocates to a new city for any number of reasons, is deployed to a war zone or returns as a veteran and needs to start life over, sometimes with a physical or mental challenge.

How do any of us restructure our time and resources? It can be exhilarating to embark on a new path, but also tough and scary and require several starts and stops. 

Each of us learned this lesson about the need to reapportion our pie charts as we struggled with not enough time for fun and too much for work or not enough time for solitude and too much time spent with others. We paid attention to friends as they talked about the same challenges--feeling lonely with too much time alone—or being squeezed work-wise and never having enough time for anything but work, work, work. We realized everyone needs to alter their schedules at various times. And since we’re both foodies the pie analogy seemed a propitious way to slice life into all the activities we want and toss aside those we don’t. 

In doing so, we have both have survived life’s unwanted surprises and with change found new growth. We’ve become more compassionate toward the plight of others as we each try to fit in time to help others in need—over the phone, in emails and in person. We’ve offered advice too, to others who are moving into new careers or trying to remake their worlds. Yet, some continue to have their fingers stuck in their pie charts, unable to move forward. We urge them to move forward by viewing their lives as a big juicy pie waiting to be sliced and dished up. 

Here’s how we see ours.

Here is how Barbara’s pieces of her new pie chart lay out:


Margaret’s chart shows a shifting of priorities but here’s her portion control:  

Instead of resolutions, especially those at the end or beginning of a new year, we suggest others envision their lives as personal pie charts that they literally draw to visualize all more clearly. We know that what works now may not work in six months, a year or two years, depending on what any of us encounter along the way. But it helps greatly to keep the image firmly in view. Keep in mind that it’s within most people’s power to take charge and make changes. What does your pie chart look like today and how would you like it to change? 

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